For tour information please visit www.newporthistorytours.org.
82 Touro Street, Newport
This meeting house was constructed in 1730 by Richard Munday on Barney Street, and can now be seen as part of the Newport Historical Society’s building. The oldest surviving Baptist church building in America, the meeting house boasts a beautifully carved pulpit and interior paneling.
The Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (ca. 1697)
17 Broadway, Newport
Get a close look at one of the best examples of early colonial architecture in New England. Furnished with colonial antiques, this circa 1697 house is an excellent example of vernacular architecture and contains fine colonial decorative arts. It was the site of Newport’s 1765 Stamp Act riot. Guided tours by the Newport Historical Society discuss the lives of the house’s diverse inhabitants as well as recent archaeology and restoration work.
Farewell & Marlborough Sts., Newport
Experience the stunning simplicity of Rhode Island’s oldest house of worship, built in 1699. The building exterior has been restored to its 1807 appearance, and the interior retains its medieval-style framing. Quakers from throughout New England gathered here for their yearly meetings to pray and discuss the issues of the day. Tours are available seasonally from the Newport Historical Society departing from the Museum of Newport History, and for groups by appointment.
The Newport Colony House (1739)
Washington Square, Newport
Built in 1739 and attributed to architect Richard Munday, it was Rhode Island’s first government building. In addition to serving as the state house, the Colony House has been used for public meetings, important trials, religious and social functions, and is still in use today. A gateway to the colonial section of Newport, this architectural landmark is open seasonally for tours and throughout the year for educational programs.
History of Property Acquisition at the Newport Historical Society
The Newport Historical Society was founded in 1854 as a collections-based institution.
By 1884, NHS was seeking a place to house its archives and collections. At that time, it purchased the 7th Day Baptist Meeting House because of “its low price, interest in the historic building, the interesting relics it possesses, and its adaptability to the purposes of the society.” In 1887, the Society purchased a lot next to the Touro Synagogue and moved the Meeting House there. In 1889, the Newport Natural History Museum was added to the rear of the Meeting House. In 1902, ground was broken for a brick building on that lot that was intended to house office space, a fire proof vault and a library and in 1916 that building was expanded. At that time, the Meetinghouse was connected to the rear of the building on Barney Street. At the same time, the Newport Natural History Museum was also removed and the building became the official headquarters of the Historical Society.
In 1876, the United States of America celebrated its Centennial and its colonial roots. The influence of one of the most popular exhibits, a colonial kitchen replete with spinning wheel, led to one of the most important architectural and cultural periods in US history-that of the Colonial Revival. By the early 20th century many communities were establishing independent historical societies, saving colonial homes and buildings and building new architecture designed to look old. In Newport, some of the most important colonial buildings were designated for restoration. In the 1920’s, NHS pursued its interest in colonial buildings by attempting to raise funds to buy and restore Colony House. After restoring the first floor, its funding raising efforts stalled as a result of the Great Depression. The State made efforts to maintain the building over the next 60 years, but it mostly sat empty. In the 1990s, NHS completed a formal licensing agreement with the State of Rhode Island to manage the building and open it for visitors and other public access.
In 1928, NHS purchased one of the oldest houses in Newport, the Wanton-Lyman Hazard House. The property was mortgaged so that restoration could begin. While the stock market crash slowed the process, a restoration of the property was completed under the direction of Norman Isham. The house was used as an attraction and for colonial revival educational activities. Today it is a furnished colonial house museum which gets most of its visitation through school programs about the American Revolution.
In 1922, the City of Newport purchased the Great Friends Meeting House from the last Quaker congregant in Newport. In 1957, when the Meeting House needed a new roof and floor, Mrs. Katherine Warren, head of the Newport Preservation Society, called upon Mr. & Mrs. Sydney L. Wright of Jamestown to assist her in raising funds from the Quaker community. In 1970, the Meeting House was deeded to NHS. With other capital donations, NHS acquired several houses and lots surrounding the Meeting House, which were originally part of the Great Friends property, and cleared them in order to create the park-like setting seen today.
Throughout its history, NHS also acquired several Revolutionary War forts and the Portsmouth windmill. These properties were turned over to other interested and responsible stewards when caring for them became too onerous. Today NHS retains ownership of Green End Fort, which it acquired in 1924. The Fort is the site of a battle by the 1st Regiment (an African-American unit) and is currently maintained by the Sons of the Revolution. In 1969 the board of NHS expressed hope that the Sons would “maintain the Fort as a memorial and eventually acquire the property.” At that time the Sons assumed responsibility for maintenance but not ownership of the Fort. According to a stipulation of the deed of gift, as reported in the NHS board minutes, in the event that neither NHS nor the Sons can maintain this historic site, it should be returned to the State of Rhode Island.
In the late 20th century, a group in Newport came together to restore Peter Harrison’s Brick Market and return it to public use. The Brick Market Foundation, headed by Ralph Carpenter, raised the money to restore the City-owned building, and leased from the City. A management agreement with the NHS allowed the Historical Society to operate the Museum of Newport History within the building, and NEH funds were acquired to plan and execute the exhibit. Today, the Museum is coupled with a Museum Shop, the Brick Market Foundation is no longer in operation, and an agreement between the City and the NHS is in place.
With the exception of the headquarters building, all of the NHS properties are originally of the colonial era. Each one represents a significant period in Newport’s history.